ICA effort raises $25m as museum looks to future
The Institute of Contemporary Art, just five years after opening its first permanent home, is flexing its newfound financial muscle.
The ICA will announce today that it has raised $25 million toward a $50 million campaign, the bulk of which will dramatically boost its endowment.
That is an important step in stabilizing the museum’s future. The ICA opened an attention-getting building on Fan Pier in 2006, and it has since used innovative programming to spearhead a boom in regional attention to contemporary art. But it is working with an endowment of just $9.9 million, a figure dwarfed by the endowments at several other local museums.
With a bigger endowment, the ICA will depend less on hard-to-predict attendance figures and the generosity of donors.
“It says to me that the ICA is really thinking about their future,’’ said Tom Lentz, director of the Harvard Art Museums, which has a $581 million endowment.
The ICA’s announcement is the latest move in an unprecedented decade-long building and fund-raising boom at local museums. Just last week, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum opened a $114 million wing to the public, drawing on a $180 million campaign due for completion by December 2013. After a $504 million campaign, the Museum of Fine Arts opened its Art of the Americas Wing in 2010, followed by renovations to open a contemporary art wing last year.
The Harvard Art Museums will open an expanded and renovated museum complex next year. And just two months ago, the Peabody Essex Museum announced its own record-breaking $650 million campaign, with roughly $200 million going to fund an expansion and $350 million going to its endowment.
“The buzzword now is sustainability, and a lot of institutions are getting a lot more serious about putting themselves on the right long-term footing,’’ said Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. “This is a healthy and good thing.’’
ICA leaders contemplated launching an endowment campaign not long after completing a $75 million building campaign in 2008. But they put the idea off because of the lagging economy. It was not until October 2010 that the museum’s board decided to move forward.
While the ICA will not offer specific donation figures, it revealed that $17 million of the $25 million raised so far has come from a small group of longtime supporters, including Barbara Lee, Ellen Matilda Poss, board chairman Paul Buttenwieser, board president Charles Brizius, and Fotene Demoulas, cochairwoman of the ICA’s 75th anniversary gala.
Poss’s gift endows the director’s position, Lee’s gift endows the chief curator’s post, and Demoulas’s gift has resulted in naming the ICA’s east gallery after her.
Of the total $50 million in the campaign, $30 million will go to the ICA’s endowment and $20 million to operations and a capital improvement and replacement fund. The effort is scheduled to be completed next year.
ICA director Jill Medvedow said that this time around, the tone of the fund-raising campaign is different. Before the ICA opened its new home on the waterfront, many questioned whether Boston could truly support an audience for contemporary art. Historically, the city’s cultural community had been viewed as more conservative. But since the new building opened in 2006, the ICA has attracted an average of 200,000 visitors a year.
“This time, the campaign is not occurring in a cynical or skeptical context,’’ said Medvedow. “That excitement around the work we’ve done, the talent we’ve amassed, the attendance, has made this a very compelling story. It is not news to anybody that building a healthy endowment is both inspirational and aspirational and a critical step in our development.’’
Right now, just $470,000 – or about 4 percent – of the ICA’s $11.1 million annual operating budget comes from endowment income. After the campaign, the ICA aims to increase the endowment draw to 14 percent.
In comparison, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, one of the country’s strongest contemporary art institutions, draws nearly 40 percent of its annual operating budget from its $164 million endowment.
Among local museums, sizable endowments can be found at the Harvard Art Museums, the MFA ($548.4 million), the Peabody Essex ($280 million, rising to $630 million in 2016), and the Gardner ($102 million, rising to $140 million in 2013).
“What Jill and the leadership have done is establish this great building, the beginnings of the collection, and now they’re creating the third leg of the stool, which is financial security,’’ said Adam Weinberg, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
Lee, who contributed more than $5 million to the ICA’s building campaign and gave the museum the first artworks in its collection, said the campaign is about “positioning ourselves on physically sound ground for the future.’’
That future also could include a search for more space. The ICA’s building, designed by architects Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, earned international attention when it opened. But its footprint is just 65,000 square feet, with 17,000 square feet for the galleries on the building’s fourth floor. The MFA’s 80,000-square-foot Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, which opened last year, includes more than 12,000 square feet of gallery space.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, whose support was instrumental when the ICA secured its current site in South Boston, has already met with Medvedow to discuss, among other things, the potential for expansion. The problem, he said, is that the land surrounding the ICA is privately owned and set for development.
“Is there a possibility? I would never say no,’’ said Menino. “But it’s going to be very difficult.’’
Medvedow said there’s no current plan to expand. “But it’s our job to imagine a future 25 years down the road,’’ she said.
Article Courtesy of The Boston Globe | By Geoff Edgers